The Theology of Service

I don’t usually start my writing from a ‘negative’ but today is going to be a little different. I just got back from a week long Catholic Heart Workcamp service/mission trip with a group of 15 kids (yes, I am including my wife and myself in that - age is just a number). It was an incredible experience to see how this group came together, ministered to the needy and forgotten, were the literal hands and feet of Christ this week. We came together with over 200 other students from around the country to serve in the Pittsburgh area. We lived together in a school, slept on air mattresses, showered in the locker room and ate in the cafeteria. Where’s the negative you might be asking yourself? Well, certainly not with any of the above (not even being facetious - I wouldn’t trade the entire experience for a five-star hotel and the finest foods).

After getting back from our mission trip I was debriefing with our church staff and we were discussing some of the opportunities to capitalize on the renewed energy that we came back with as a youth group. The staff was as excited as I was. I learned, however, that there had been a time a few years ago that service work and youth ministry were mutually exclusive. “The youth minister didn’t believe in a theology of service.” I was told. WHAT???

Our First Day - Shy and Timid

How can you read the Gospels, especially the Gospel of Matthew and not believe in a theology of service. It’s like a lacrosse coach not believing in the concept of teamwork. Don’t get me wrong, physical service is not for everyone but we are all called to serve. This week I experienced the true meaning of service in the kids that we brought on this mission trip. 

Our Last Day - Not Shy Anymore

When we left to go to Pittsburgh on Sunday (5:30AM) we were a group of 15 individuals, some of us knew each other, some of us were related to each other (three sets of siblings in our group) but we were an awkward, timid group. After eight hours in the vans together, singing, watching (or listening to) movies and talking, we were, well, still awkward and timid with each other (see our before and after photos). It wasn’t until we started to pray together, work together, laugh together and make fools of ourselves together that we were able to form a bond. 

Jesus is very clear on the theology of service - it isn’t an isolated teaching moment for him, it is woven in and through all of his words and actions. He tells us in very simple terms what it takes to get into heaven. There is no mystery, no secret handshake (although secret handshakes are fun). When you encounter the poor, the needy, the hungry, the oppressed then it is time to do something. The theology of service extends beyond putting money in a basket or writing a check - it is at the very essence of who we are and what we were created for.  

Want some examples that have been laid out for us? Here are just a few:

  1. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-12)
  2. The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 29-37)
  3. The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25: 31-46)
  4. John 3:16
  5. James 2 (the whole chapter - read it - it’s one page long)

Ultimately it is brought to fruition on the cross where Jesus provides the ultimate sacrifice, freeing us from the bondage of our sins. Jesus serves. 

What’s in it for me?

Are there any negatives to a theology of service? Of course. We realize pretty quickly that we can’t do it all; there is just too much to do on our own. Service is not peaceful - although we can be at peace when we are performing it. Service is a disruptor in our lives - it puts us in uncomfortable situations, it may lead us on a path that is not as comfortable as our parents hoped for us. Service puts us face-to-face with ourselves, who we are at our essence and that can be scary. Service is agape, unconditional love - easy to say but difficult to live.

No one should be serving others because of what they get out of it - that being said, true service is replete with rewards. Here are some of the effects that I have been able to experience on the CHWC campers through service just this past week:

1. Joy - yes, radiant joy. By doing for others, being who God made you to be, you are filled with joy - and it shows.

2. Acceptance - we know we can’t stamp out poverty by ourselves but we can work together to make a difference in the lives of others. 

3. Determination - as Bob the Builder would say, “Can we fix it?” Yes, we can.

4. Understanding - many of us are born to privilege but until we get the chance to work with the poor, hungry, homeless we don’t appreciate just how alike we all are. 

5. Relationship - by serving we form relationships not only to those we serve but those we serve with. By serving, being Christ’s hands and feet, we strengthen our relationship with him. 

My challenge to you today is to serve. It may be just one thing you do today but do it with joy, accept that you are making a small difference, be determined to continue in the work, connect with the person you are serving and rejoice in the relationship that you have with Jesus as you do what he did. 

Peace my friends, 


For more on service please check out the following:

  1. The Gospel of Matthew 
  2. Do Something” by Matthew West
  3. The writings of Mother Theresa

“Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” St. Francis of Assisi